It is very likely that the first woman suffrage ribbons were home made. The earliest reference to ribbons was from the failed 1867 campaign in Kansas, where supporters crafted examples in yellow, the color taken from the State flower. It is from these ribbons that yellow eventually became the official color of many suffrage organizations, including the National American Woman Suffrage Association. For the most part, ribbons were not worn as everyday accoutrements; their use was basically limited to conventions, parades, and some rallies. In general, they are scarcer to find than buttons and badges because of their restricted use. You will find below background to some of the more noteworthy examples.
Belva Lockwood “Mock” Ribbons When Belva Lockwood ran for President in 1884 and then again in 1888, there were fears by some suffragists that her campaigns would become the subject of ridicule and thus detract from the seriousness of the movement. Whatever benefits that Lockwood’s candidacies may have had for the advancement of women’s rights, there is no doubt that they were the subject of extensive satire. Men throughout the country mocked her campaign and the struggle for equal voting rights through a series of torchlight and “Mother Hubbard” parades, where they would dress up as women and hold rallies purportedly supporting her. The ribbons pictured here probably all came from these mock rallies and were not issued by campaign sources, even though only the Lockwood caricature piece appears on the surface to be satiric. The two differently colored rebus ribbons are of slightly different design and were probably used for festivities at different locations. While Lockwood did produce campaign cards and informational literature, there is no record of her having distributed any lapel material. For further information about “Mother Hubbard” parades, see my forthcoming book, Woman Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History.
The Kansas Amendment Ribbon, one of the most graphic of all such items issued in the 19th century, has an interesting background. These ribbons were the product of a local newspaper, The Farmer’s Wife, which sold them at ten cents each and one dollar for a dozen. Emma Pack, an émigré from Pennsylvania, edited the paper and the publisher was her husband, Ira, a Populist Party sympathizer. The publication addressed general concerns of farmwomen on the prairie, and served as an advocate for equal suffrage, an elevation of women’s economic status, and Prohibition. Politically, the paper generally supported the Populist Party agenda. It was in existence for a scant three years from 1891-94, when it ceased publication after the Kansas equal suffrage amendment of 1894 went down to defeat. The paper proved to be an extremely valuable resource for suffrage news for those women in the state’s rural areas who could not attend distant rallies and meetings.
The Political Equality Club of Minnesota was originally named the Woman Suffrage Club of Minneapolis when it formed in 1868, and it was renamed as the Equality Club in 1897, not disbanding until the passage of the national suffrage amendment in 1920. The club hosted many conventions of the Minneapolis Woman Suffrage Association, and served as one of the hosts for a conference in 1897 of the leadership of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Although the Political Equality Club ribbon displayed here is undated, it probably was used for that 1897 convention. Susan B. Anthony is known to have autographed several of the leadership ribbons.
The legend at the bottom of the 1894 New York State Woman Suffrage Association Convention Ribbon refers to the fact that in that year New York held a Constitutional Convention at which women were not allowed to attend, even though one of the issues to be discussed was that of Woman Suffrage. The leadership of the New York suffrage movement still saw the Convention as an opportunity to gain the vote. A petition campaign was run out of Susan B. Anthony’s home in Rochester to secure 1,000,000 signatures in support of the franchise for women. Joining forces with labor organizations and the Granges, suffragists managed to secure 600,000 signatures, an impressive number for the time, but the suffrage amendment was still defeated 98-58. Still, the ribbon was issued in celebration of hard work and the large number of people who were in public support of the franchise. The NYWSA was one of the most prolific of all state organizations in terms of production of ribbons. Many of their ribbons were actually badges, with the cloth attached to a button
depicting a famous suffragist such as Susan B. Anthony, Cary Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Emma Willard. NYWSA was one of the few suffrage associations to feature portraits of suffragists on their memorabilia, although many of these items were memorial. American suffrage groups,
unlike several of their English counterparts, tended to shy away from promoting their leaders, focussing more on ideology instead. NYWSA may have also considered the fact that these were delegate ribbons, not pieces that were distributed to and worn by members of the general public. Although all convention ribbons are scarce today, the extant ribbons from NAWSA gatherings suggest a large attendance at their conventions or else an impressive group of collector delegates.
Although these two 1919 Missouri Suffrage Convention Ribbons look as if they may have been variant pieces from the same event, they were not. The ribbon on the left was issued by the National American Woman Suffrage Association for their 50th Anniversary Jubilee gathering held in St. Louis on March 24-29 at the Statler Hotel with about 600 members in attendance. It was at this convention that Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the formation of a league of women voters to “finish the fight.” The ribbon itself was modeled after a design that NAWSA had used in both 1916 and 1917. The Missouri State Convention that year was also held in St. Louis, where Mrs. George Gellhorn was elected as local president.
NAWSA Convention Ribbons While it is not known how many of NAWSA’s conventions resulted in the production of ribbons one the organization had formed in 1890, it is likely that most if not all of them did. Convention programs generally had delegate instructions informing participants as to where they could pick up their credentials, these credentials generally involving ribbons of some sort. Most conventions produced multiple ribbons, the style and color of each indicating the wearer’s status–delegate, official, committee member, general public, etc. Most designs were unique to a particular convention, but, beginning in 1916, a generic design was used. Sometimes special ribbons were made for NAWSA’s President such as those printed for Carrie Chapman Catt. The ribbons represented on the left and below are but a small portion of known items.
The two delegate ribbons below from 1916 and 1917 are of the same design as the 1919 item shown above. There was no convention in 1918 because of the War and thus no ribbon from that year.
Pennsylvania State Ribbons Most large state organizations printed ribbons for at least some of their conventions. One such group was the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, which was organized in 1868. It was in Pennsylvania on July 4, 1876 that Susan B. Anthony read her famous “Declaration of Rights for Women” in front of the statue of Washington at Independence Hall. Pennsylvania suffragists include Lucretia Mott, Ann Davies, Florence Kelley, Ann Preston, and Emma Guffey Miller. Although the suffrage referendum was defeated in the State in 1915 by 55,000 votes, Pennsylvania didbecome the seventh state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment on June 14, 1919, just ten days after it had passed in Congress. Suffragists at the 1914 Convention laid out their plans for the coming campaign, one of which was to “recast” the Liberty Bell, which was done in Troy, New York. A special truck was devised to carry the Bell throughout all of the counties of the State. It had a small speaker’s platform where workers lectured on behalf of the suffrage amendment, and passed out literature, buttons, and a special watch fob. The Liberty Bell campaign was famous for its efforts in rural communities, which otherwise had little access to the positive message of the upcoming campaign. The clapper on the Bell was tied in place to prevent it from ringing until Pennsylvania women had been granted the vote.
Other State Convention Ribbons The Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association was organized in 1881, several years after both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had visited the State, by Clara Benwick Colby, who served as the organization’s first Vice President. Ohio was one of six states that had scheduled suffrage referenda in 1912. Unfortunately, it failed there as well as in two of the other five. Earlier in 1911, Ohio workers were highly optimistic that they might even precede California as the sixth state to grant women the right to vote. The Warren Political Equality Club ribbon pictured below is from Warren, Ohio, which was the home of the National American Woman Suffrage Association until socialite Alva Belmont provided the organization with the funds to move to New York.
The Missouri ribbon is interesting in that it contains an image of the Clarion figure, imported from England by Harriot Stanton Blatch and identified in America with the more militant factions of the movement. However, the remainder of the ribbon and the button are in yellow, a color associated with the more conservative groups. The precinct ribbon is from California as was used in their successful campaign in 1911 to add the State as the sixth star in the suffrage flag. Although many ribbons along with sashes were used to identify officials at conventions, this ribbon attached to the Men’s League celluloid button is one of the few to actually spell out its function.
Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party The official colors of Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party in its various incarnations (Congressional Union, the Woman’s Party), were always purple, yellow, and white, although sometimes blue could be substituted. The purple reflected the militancy of the English movement, where the color first achieved symbolism and prominence) and the yellow was associated with the American movement. So visible were Paul’s supporters and demonstrations that her color scheme became widely known that often the Party did not bother to imprint its ribbons and sashes, letting the colors speak for themselves. These two ribbons, obviously, were less experimental in that regard.
Municipal Suffrage for Women In several states, dating back into the nineteenth century, women were allowed to vote in municipal elections, although not in state or presidential contests. Even then, their vote was often restricted to school elections. One of the arguments of suffragists was that women wanted the vote in order to be better mothers, that they needed to have their say about matters relating to education and other issues concerning their children. It is theorized that some states may have provided women with the opportunity to vote in municipal elections to undermine the argument of why they needed to have a larger electoral voice. This is the only known ribbon from an unidentified city and state urging even that minimal access to the ballot.
C.O.U.F.T.D.O. Ribbon Beginning in the late nineteenth century, many lodges, unions, fire departments, and other organizations printed ribbons for various outdoor gatherings such as picnics and retreats. A theme often found on these ribbons is “What A Rousing Time To Be Had At . . .” Essentially, this is the message appearing on the ribbon to the left, produced by a homeopathy group for an event held on August 16, 1894. The image of a couple kissing reflects a period stereotype that somehow suffragists were asexual.
For more information about these and other suffrage ribbons, consult my forthcoming book from McFarland Press, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: an Illustrated Historical Study. Details about publication date and ordering will be posted on the home page of this site.